Tibbs’ plagiarism may get ink in Idaho Statesman

Oct 27th, 2007 | By | Category: Uncategorized

By A. Maude Metcalfe

It might be late in the political game, but there is a chance that the state’s largest daily could actually cover the Boise City Mayoral election and ask some hard questions of former lawman/City Councilman Jim Tibbs on the matter of plagiarizing the work of his opponent.

Should the Idaho Statesman actually start reporting on the election and take a closer look at the actions of Councilman Tibbs, there is a chance (i.e., big Maybe) that the story will pierce through the comment sections of the IdahoGuardian.com blog and reach readers’ interest at the Idaho Statesman.

In my story, “Tibbs earns “F€ for Originality,€ published October 15, 2007, I wrote about how the Tibbs for Mayor Campaign surreptitiously rewrote Boise City’s environmental document “Recommendations for CO2 Reduction Strategies and Sustainable Practices for Construction Projects in Boise”, as a framework to “create€ their own innovative “Valley Vision Initiative.€

The Tibbs camp must have thought they were the only ones who read the original Boise document. Unfortunately, unlike the Idaho Statesman, I just have a thing for dry environmental reports; call it a bad habit if you will. I was surprised that I was the only one who caught this juicy bit of ethical transgression on the part of Councilman Tibbs and his campaign. I suspected that the original committee convened by Mayor Bieter might have noticed as well, and a few inquiries show they did.

Having seen no coverage of the plagiarism issue after Tibbs released his plan for Boise’s environment, and bragged of his “Valley Vision Initiative€ in his Idaho Statesman article published on October 14, 2007, I wrote the following day of the lines cut directly word-for-word by the Tibbs campaign.

PrideDEPOT.com notified the Idaho Statesman on October 20 about the transgression in the hope that the The Idaho Statesman would emerge from its self-induced coma and finally take notice, but I was of course mistaken. Apparently, The Idaho Statesman did not see any news value in reporting how Councilman Tibbs’ “Valley Vision Initiative€ looked suspiciously similar to that of his opponent’s whom he has made charges of ethical behavior.

But alas, the Idaho Statesman was too busy to focus on the Boise City elections. They were still basking in the sweet afterglow of national notoriety from publishing Dan Popkey’s long awaited “special report€ about Sen. Larry Craig’s dalliances. Let’s face it, Popkey’s “special report€ would still be collecting dust if Roll Call in Washington DC hadn’t actually broken the story about Craig first, but why dig into reality at this point?

The lack of interest in reporting was lamented in a missive published by editorial page editor, Kevin Richert, who lamented in his blog on October 22 that as far as he could tell, the Boise elections were slow since he saw no yard signs or election related letters to the editor:

“It’s election season in the Treasure Valley. Wake me when it starts.€
“I don’t think I’ve seen less voter interest in a local election in my 6 1/2 years in Boise €” or in my 22 years in Idaho communities.€
“I’m not sure why.€

Richert’s nearsighted observation speaks to a more serious question of basic journalistic standards on the part of the Idaho Statesman and its apparent lack of interest in defending the public’s right to know.

Since the Idaho Statesman wasn’t interested, I decided to contact individuals about the blatant similarities between Tibbs’ document and that of Mayor Beiter. I received no official responses from the Tibbs himself or from his campaign. Nor did I receive a response from Dr. Patricia Fredericksen, associate professor of Public Administration at Boise State University, who is an advisor on the Tibbs for Mayor Campaign and is knowledgeable about matters of plagiarism.

I did, however, receive a written response from the Bieter for Boise campaign. Their response shows that prior to the narrative published by the Idaho Statesman on October 14, 2007, written by the Tibbs campaign; the newspaper was notified that the Tibbs’ “Valley Vision Initiative€ was a systematic bootleg of a City document.

As it turns out, Richert and the Idaho Statesman have been sitting on this information since the Bieter for Mayor Campaign provided them with the following news release directly after the September 21, 2007 release of the Tibbs “Valley Vision Initiative.€

When asked if the Bieter campaign was aware of the plagiarism, their campaign provided me with the following statement and copy of the release they provided to the Idaho Statesman.

“The campaign and Mayor’s office are aware of the council man’s “use€ of the Mayor’s committee recommendations. In fact, we sent the following release to the Boise media immediately after we saw our opponent’s release. Neither his “vision€ announcement nor our response were reported on by anyone€”except you, or course.€

It would appear that our story on PrideDEPOT.com caught the eye of those in Bieter’s campaign. As it turns out, the copy of the press release they provided the Idaho Statesman gave specific detail of the plagiarism by the Tibbs Campaign and the larger implications of this plagiarism. Their press release reads as follows:

Statement from Mayor Bieter on Tibbs’ Green Initiative:

“No one has been more committed to protecting Boise’s air, water and open space than I have. I was the first Mayor in Idaho to sign the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. I led the charge to oppose the proposed gold mine on the headwaters of the Boise River. I’ve moved the City forward on environmentally-friendly vehicles€”helping us win the “Clean Cities€ designation from the US Department of Energy. We’re moving ahead with LEED standards And I’ve fought against leapfrog development and sprawl that forces people to spend more time in their cars.€

“In fact, it appears that my opponent is so impressed with the work of my Climate Protection Advisory Committee that he’s now trying to pass off€”almost word for word in some places€”their recommendations as his own “Green€ initiative. By plagiarizing the committee’s report, Mr. Tibbs not only reinforces his reputation for being weak on policy, but does a tremendous disservice to the members of the committee and all their hard work.€

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the Tibbs Initiative and the Mayor’s Climate Protection Program Advisory (MPCCA) Committee’s Report:

€¢ TIBBS Page 1, Item 2, Bullet 1 is roughly the same as MCPPA Page 3, Item 2.
€¢ TIBBS Page 1, Item 2, Bullet 2 is almost word for word the same as MCPPA Page 3, Item 1 (including the 10,000 square foot standard)
€¢ TIBBS Page 1, Item 2, Bullet 3 is verbatim identical to MCPPA Page 3, Item 4, right down to the wording of the three examples.
€¢ TIBBS Page 2, Item 4, Bullet 1 is almost identical to MCPPA Page 1, Item 1.
€¢ TIBBS Page 2, Item 4, Bullet 2 is a shortened version of MCPAA Page 1, Item 3.
€¢ TIBBS Page 2, Item 4, Bullet 3 is a slightly shorter version of MCPAA Page 1, Item 5, with the wording “minimum energy efficiency level equal to Energy Star NW requirements” copied almost verbatim.
€¢ TIBBS Page 3, Item 4, Bullet 4 is a combination of MCPAA Page 2, Items 11 and 12 with the wording “reductions above minimum requirements” copied verbatim.
€¢ TIBBS Page 3, Item 4, Bullet 5 is very similar to MCPAA Page 2, Item 13, Bullet 3.
€¢ TIBBS Page 3, Item 4, Bullet 6 is very similar to MCPAA Page 3, Item 15, with the wording “review the previous solar access ordinance for applicability” copied almost verbatim. (This is a particularly telling example. Nowhere else in Tibbs’ document does he mention the fact that the City previously had a solar access ordinance, later repealed; only someone familiar with the MCPAA’s deliberations would understand this reference.)
€¢ TIBBS Page 3, Item 4, Bullet 7 is identical to MCPAA Page 3, Item 16, first sentence, with only the phrase “but are not limited to” omitted.

It appears that my initial review of the Tibbs’ document as compared to the Boise City document was dead on. In effect, the Bieter camp walked the Idaho Statesman point-by-point through the entire sordid mess. When I first read the Tibbs’ document, the sentences nearly jumped off the page. Their initial switch-up to discuss Boise City’s last issues first and first issues last didn’t do a thing to hide how drastically they lifted the Committee’s work and claimed the credit.

To assure that my assessment of these documents did in fact meet the standard definition of plagiarism, I engaged the help of an expert in plagiarism recognition. Dr. Bruce Ballenger, Associate Professor of English at Boise State University, who according to his faculty profile, has written articles published in the Boston Globe and has published numerous books on researched-based writing and creative nonfiction, reviewed the two documents and provided the following independent analysis:

“It’s helpful to consider plagiarism as a continuum. The mildest forms involve an imitation of the structure of the original source, even if paraphrased and acknowledged. The most egregious forms are outright use of someone else’s work–borrowing both language and ideas–without any acknowledgment whatsoever. In the academic world, this is viewed as dishonesty, and the penalties can be severe.€

“While nonacademic writing may be less scrutinized, it is widely assumed that using someone else’s words with quotation marks, or borrowing someone else’s ideas without giving them credit is, at the very least, very poor judgment.€

“I reviewed both documents and found significant instances of plagiarism. After a cursory look, the “Tibbs Valley Vision Initiative” includes at least six phrases what were lifted directly–word for word– from the memo from the Boise Climate Protection Program Advisory Committee memo, all without attribution.

“Perhaps most egregious is that nowhere in the Tibbs document is the Advisory Committee memo mentioned as source of a significant number of the ideas it advocates. Arguably, the Advisory Committee memo–a public group who issued a document with no identifiable authors–does not constitute intellectual property whose rights should be protected. But all writers have an ethical obligation to acknowledge how the work of others has contributed to their own. I’d be happy to be more specific about the instances of plagiarized text I identified.€

While the Tibbs campaign never officially responded to the plagiarism charges, it was recently bought to PrideDEPOT.com’s attention that in comments posted on BoiseGuardian.com, a Tibbs employee unofficially admitted that their “Valley Vision Initiative€ was indeed a cut and paste of the Boise city document.

On October 26, I received an email response from the Kathleen Kreller, Boise Government Reporter with the Idaho Statesman about my questions over the lack of coverage on the plagiarism charges. Kreller’s two sentence response indicates that maybe, possibly, perhaps, perchance, they might actually report on this matter.

Kreller’s response follows:

Thank you for the information. I’ll be looking into the matter.

Regards,

Kathleen Kreller
Boise Government Reporter
Idaho Statesman

My reaction: Yawn!

Kreller wrote this lackluster observation on October 22; “Nuance will decide Boise’s mayoral election – Priorities are the same, but Dave Bieter and Jim Tibbs disagree on the way to achieve them.€

So far, the Idaho Statesman has been shirking its responsibility to investigate this matter for more than a month. They received an alarming bit of news directly from Bieter’s campaign about how Tibbs was lifting their work and calling it his own. The very essence of conflict was placed in the newspaper’s lap and ignored for lack of interest.

I’ll give Kreller the benefit of the doubt and assume that her missive to me wasn’t just a backhanded “get lost€ response, but a statement of fact that she will “look into it.€

But given the the newspaper’s track record in not finding any interest in the Mayorial Election, I’m not going to hold my breath.

After all, Kevin Richert from their own editorial staff sees no spice or sex appeal in the Boise election. So why bother now? I can tell why they should bother now, it’s THERE JOB TO REPORT, that’s why!

For an editor to blame the public for a lack of interest in an election that HE has decidedly not reported on speaks of serious journalistic failings. If someone on the editorial staff of the Idaho Statesman actually asks the question about plagiarism by Jim Tibbs and his campaign, I’ll consider that at least a first step in defending the public’s right to know.

But I’m not holding my breath!



PrideDEPOT.com editor, independent journalist & LGBT media spokesperson,
Jody May-Chang now writes on "As I See It...Reporting from the front lines

As I See It Jody May-Chang.com Reporting from the front lines


3 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. let’s face it, Republicans have no new ideas.

  2. As I was reading this article on Tibbs and the non-coverage of the elections in Boise, I looked out of my window and noticed the temperature inversion that hangs over Prague all winter long. It reminded me of my winters in Boise. Public apathy and political corruption are much in evidence in the Czech Republic and make me nostalgic for the homeland.

    The press in the Czech Republic usually align themselves with a political party and everyone knows that; in the states, a fiction is maintained that crass commercial interests and political pressure don’t influence the pursuit of true…except when it does. In the story about Tibbs, it was the non-pursuit of truth…even better!

    The one party dictatorship in the Czech lands for sixty years is pointed to as the primary cause for the political apathy and poor standards of journalism as well as the corrupt practices of various politicians. The one party system in Idaho has produced, well, the same thing by golly. What a surprise! Yes, kids it’s all one big planet.

  3. Great work on this story. I hope it makes a diffrence.